As we move forward into a post-pandemic future, students’ interest in online degree programs to continue their higher education is growing. Studying online comes with its own unique benefits and challenges compared to a traditional classroom experience. But with many colleges and universities keeping their campuses closed this fall, online learning seems to be the only way for many students to be sure about continuing their studies, including people who have been out of school for a while and want to go back and take some courses or get a degree.
How Coronavirus has impacted college admissions and studies
It’s safe to say that the pandemic hasn’t been easy for anyone. But even before the Coronavirus came crashing into our lives, online degree programs were already beginning to make significant headway into the traditional college system. The growing power of technology and increased internet connectivity has made it easier for schools to offer classes online, and for students to take them. Online learning platforms have become much easier to use for schools, teachers, and students alike.
But not all online colleges and degree programs are created equal. Let’s take a closer look at some of the differences between studying in a physical or virtual classroom, some of the advantages and disadvantages of both, and what to think about when considering an online degree program.
Online college vs. traditional college
There are three main distinctions to make between the types of college experiences available today. Those are:
- Traditional brick-and-mortar universities
- Hybrid physical and online classes
- Online-only courses
There is a further distinction to make between a full and just taking classes online as part of your regular studies. With the former, every class, project, essay, presentation, and thesis happens online. For many students, this sounds amazing. You are allowed a broad range of freedom in regards to when and how to study. But for some students, this poses significant challenges. There are as many different ways to learn as there are students taking classes, and the same teaching and learning methods don’t always work for each student.
The importance of online degree program accreditation
We can’t stress enough how important it is that your college or university, online or not, is certified by a recognized accreditation institution. Accreditation is a voluntary review process that universities undergo to ensure that their curriculum meets the highest standards of educational rigor. The U.S. Department of Education provides accreditation guidelines and recognizes several regional agencies, but here are a few you can investigate on your own:
By making sure your school or degree program is fully accredited, you can avoid “degree mills” that stand only to make a profit by running as many people as possible through their degree programs, providing worthless degrees to unprepared students. Graduate schools such as medical or law schools and others require fully accredited degrees, so if you’re considering an online degree program, do your research on its accreditation status.
How does online college work?
There are a few major advantages and disadvantages to taking setting. What’s important to you will depend on your personal preferences, life situation, learning style, and more. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to education, so you will have to decide on your own what works best for you.
Let’s break down a few of the big differences:
Online College Advantages:
- Flexible schedule; can earn your degree on a part-time basis
- No need to commute
- Do not have to sit in class
- Work at your own pace
- Convenient/don’t have to worry about obstacles like illnesses, childcare, work schedule, etc.
- Connect with students worldwide
Online College Disadvantages:
- Must be self-motivated, self-disciplined, organized
- Must have required technology and ability to use it
- Not all majors are available online (medicine, registered nursing, etc.)
- Interaction with professors and classmates is online, not in person (usually)
Traditional College Advantages:
- Structured schedule
- Face-to-face interaction with professors and classmates
- Quick individual feedback
- Reminders about assignments, exams, etc.
- Access to facilities like libraries, health center, computer lab, fitness center, etc.
Traditional College Disadvantages:
- Schedule is not flexible
- Difficult to travel
- Commute, parking
- Added costs: textbooks, “facilities fees”
- More COVID-19 risk
If you’re thinking about taking an online degree program, you might be wondering what to expect. For the most part, the classes you take and the material covered will be the same. Established curricula have to be maintained, and in most cases, the only change will be in how that curriculum gets delivered (via online education rather than in the classroom).
Digital delivery of material, assignments, and feedback looks and feels very different online than it does to sit in a classroom, receive instruction, or hand in a paper. But most digital learning platforms should be familiar to anyone who has spent time on modern websites and social media.
Tips on choosing a career path for an online degree
These days, there are almost as many career opportunities that come from getting your degree from an online college or program as there are from a traditional college program. The quality of education available from an online degree has come a long way since the early days of learning online.
Of course, coming up with is a challenge as old as college itself, but thanks to the effectiveness of today’s virtual classroom, students now have many more options for exploring career options in their chosen field of study. If you’re having trouble deciding what to major in or what job to pursue, here are four great tips to help you think about it:
- Your job and career will be a big part of your life, so consider your talents, passions, and strengths. Choose something you can do well and will enjoy doing.
- Talk to your friends, family, and mentors. They might have a different perspective on your strengths and weaknesses, and what you might be best at.
- Do your research. We recommend the website, since they have many resources to help you explore and compare different jobs.
- Look for internships, job shadowing, entry-level jobs, clubs, or organizations in your chosen field to see if it’s a good fit before you make a long-term commitment.
The BLS website we mentioned above has a ton of useful tools and information. Here are some of our favorite tools for helping you research potential jobs and career paths:
- – a brainstorming tool with lists of career ideas and options
- – job descriptions, required training, salaries, and more
- – browse more than 800 possible occupations
This is the best time in history for learning online
There are more options than ever for taking online courses, enhancing our education with the wide variety of online resources available, and even taking full online degree programs from online colleges or traditional colleges with new online offerings.
Take your time, explore your options, and even if it’s not how you imagined the college experience might be, you might find something even better suited to your needs, personality, and learning style. Get out there and start learning online today!
Michael Gluckstern is the publisher of . For more than 25 years, My College Guide has been a trusted, go-to resource for helping degree seekers find the best colleges and programs to meet their career and personal goals. For more information on online degrees and colleges, visit .